Motus, the Beauty is a Beast
Four years ago, two friends in Birmingham, Alabama lit a stick of moto dynamite, called it Motus, and tossed it right out in the middle of the motorcycle sport touring pond. The shock waves have been emanating outward ever since. Lee Conn and Brian Case had a dream—a truly American dream. Build the ultimate, do-everything street bike, from scratch, with an all-new proprietary engine and chassis, that would perfectly blend three core principles- performance, comfort, and range. And Motus Motorcycles was born.
Brian and Lee didn’t come to the task empty-handed. Brian had spent quality time at Confederate Motorcycles, having been one of the creative forces behind the vaunted Wraith model. Lee had nearly 20 years of small business experience, and great savvy to boot. They both shared a passion for two wheels and a motor, so they together set out to build the bike of their dreams. And it turns out, the dreams of many other sport-touring fans.
Much has been written in recent years on Motus’ two current models, the MST and MSTR, with spec sheets, stats and performance numbers readily available. I’d been following the development since 2012, reading everything I could find on this new motorcycle, watching every video uploaded to YouTube (runs at Barber Motorsports, records set at Bonneville Salt Flats, cross-country road tests, etc.). While numerous moto-journalists and publications detailed the digits and “nuts & bolts,” I wanted to know what it felt like to ride the Motus, how riding one would make me feel. I soon had my opportunity to find out.
Through my friends at Hourglass Cycles in Buford, Georgia, an authorized Motus dealership, I connected with Lee, who invited me out to spend a day at Motus HQ. Almost giddy with anticipation, I arrived early on a Friday, helmet and gear in hand. Lee greeted me, and since we faced the threat of heavy storms much of the day, he suggested we take off on a pair of bikes first, then talk and tour later. I gladly agreed. After giving me a quick rundown of the functions and features of the base model Motus MST, we geared up to ride.
Under dark, threatening skies, we fired up the bikes. Thumbing the starter on this machine, the big 1650cc “Baby Block” Corvette-inspired V4 powerplant roared to life like the American muscle cars of old. The hair stood up on the back of my neck just straddling, feeling, and hearing this beast beneath me. I was eager and anxious at the same time. I’ve ridden many bikes over the years, but nothing like the Motus.
The Motus motor sets low in the frame, it’s cylinder heads angled forward out in front of my knees. The crankshaft abides near the bottom of the engine, running front to back like an automobile, with the gear box beneath me, perpendicular in the frame. This low CGI makes for great stability, and what riders call “flickability” back and forth in corners. The frame is very narrow at the seat, and at 5’8″, I easily flat-footed when stopped. The HeliBars are multi-point adjustable, as are the windshield and footpegs. Very customizable to suit the rider. The digital dash has an array of information available across multiple modes, but the main screen displays everything needed, is bright and readable, and is positioned so a mere glance down is sufficient. Lee and I are about the same size, and the blue MST I was about to ride had been set up for him, so it suited me perfectly.
With a thumbs-up, Lee and I launched out of the Motus lot, and roared off down the streets of Birmingham. The MST’s throttle response is instantaneous. Negotiating surface streets gave me a chance to acclimate to the bike, and by the time we hopped up on a highway, I was settling down and feeling comfortable. The seating position is very sport-tourer, with my feet almost directly below me like sitting on a chair, and the bar reach fairly upright and very comfortable–not pulled forward and low like a sportbike, and not reclined like a cruiser. Clutch and brake levers are firm and easy to squeeze, and mirrors well-placed for the view behind.
Lee took it easy on me for the first moments and miles, letting me get a good feel for the MST’s characteristics. Dual discs up front, and a single rear, provide confident stopping power when squeezed. Gear shifting is solid yet smooth, with the shifting “sweet spot” found between 4—5000 rpm, at least for me. The gearbox is a 6-speed, with both 5th and 6th serving as overdrives.
We made our way out of the city, eventually peeling off into the rolling hill country beyond. The longer I rode the MST, the smaller the bike felt to me. From slight intimidation in the beginning, to my growing confidence with each passing mile, I soon felt the Motus fit me like a glove.
Beyond the city, Lee throttled hard up the curvy country roads, and I gave chase, howling in my helmet at the raw power and nimble handling of this amazing machine. I discovered that leaning off the bike in corners, track bike style, was completely unnecessary. The bike’s low center of gravity, ground clearance, and wheelbase make it so easy to turn. Tip the bike into a corner, and the Motus leans over effortlessly. A few corners into one particular curvy uphill road, Lee leading the way, I found myself completely “in the zone,” dialed in and feeling one with the bike, diving deep into each corner and accelerating hard out, the music of our two Motus steeds echoing in my head. The Motus is such a willing, capable, and eager dance partner when carving up mountain roads, it felt half its claimed 560 lb. wet weight. The miles and minutes ticked away, and I grew completely oblivious to time, totally in the moment on the Motus. Those moments and miles could have lasted for quite some time, since the Motus has a 5.5-gallon tank, pounding out 250-mile treks with aplomb.
Finding ourselves increasingly in and out of showers, we eventually turned back for base. Cracking the highway one more time, Lee hustled through the I-20 traffic, and I was determined to keep up with him (ok, he lost me, once!). The broad powerband and agility of the Motus inspires such confidence at highway speeds, weaving among the slower traffic was a breeze. Even as the rains began to fall with more regularity and intensity, the Motus was unmoved beneath me, slicing through the precip with minimal soaking of my threads, the tires and Brembo brakes providing ample wet grip and stopping power.
Returning to “Motus Central” in light rain, Lee pulled off his helmet and asked, “So, how did the bike make you feel?” I thought that to be a great question. I replied, “I’m flush with adrenaline, euphoric!” “Makes you feel alive?” Lee queried. “Definitely,” I declared, “like every nerve is tingling, every sense is heightened. ’OMG!’ like the teens might say!” I stepped back for one last look over the bike, one last walk-around, even as Lee headed inside. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had, standing there in the rain, staring at this remarkable motorcycle that had just taken me for the ride of my life. I had this incredible urge to hop back on, and blast off down the road again, but the better angels of my nature regained control, and I reluctantly joined Lee in the cool and dry interior.
Lee gave me a tour of the small but busy assembly plant that is Motus, where the bikes are built by hand across multiple stations, under the care of skilled and passionate craftsmen. No mechanized factory assembly here. Of the 1200+ parts that comprise every Motus, most were designed in-house, but the HeliBars, Brembo brakes, Ohlins suspension, and Akrapovic exhaust are “off the shelf.” Lee showed me some of the early mock-ups, clay models and drawings, and the two historic prototypes that made the first trip across the country. I saw the engine dyno chambers, the road test simulator, and the floor to ceiling parts warehouse. All manned by a tight-knit team of only 15. Impressive, to say the least.
Sitting down with Lee, we discussed the aesthetics of the Motus, which noticeably only wears a half fairing. Lee noted, “Brian felt any panels on the bike should be considered ‘lingerie.’ Everything under should be beautiful enough to not be hidden away. It provides just enough protection from the elements, but that engine, frame, swingarm … everything is functional and beautiful.”
Lee, Brian and company have created the quintessential American sportbike. Like the Chevy Corvette is to the European exotics, Motus is stripped down, bare essential, superior quality, two-wheeled American muscle. Breathtaking to behold, exhilarating to ride. “We set out to build a bike that would call to you on Saturday mornings, ‘let’s go ride,’” Lee mused. “There are many utilitarian motorcycles out there that will do exactly what their literature says they’ll do. We wanted to create a bike that would fill your thoughts in the night, that would wake you up dreaming about riding.” I think they have achieved their goal—I’ve had Motus dreams at night and flashbacks of my ride during the days since.
Lee, Brian, and the Motus crew are blazing a new trail in American motorcycling—they set out to build “a comfortable American sportbike, with a sensible riding position, and accommodations to tour for a few days,” as Lee stated. All with superior, automotive grade quality and durability, hands-on craftsmanship, combining outstanding V4 performance, a comfortable ride, and long legs for eating the miles and hours. With demand growing, an expanding dealer network, and potentially new models in the pipeline (a naked, maybe?), the Motus dynamite has truly rocked the pond. Sport-touring world, take notice.